Policy on war history silent on public release

Policy on war history silent on public release

According to the policy, records should ordinarily be declassified in 25 years

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. Credit: PTI Photo

The Defence Ministry on Saturday unveiled a new policy on properly framing the official history of wars or military operations, but didn’t make any commitment on the public release of such military history documents.

The policy, approved by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, mandates the constitution of a committee headed by a Joint Secretary in the Defence Ministry for compilation of history books for various military operations and future wars if it occurs.

Such history books would only be for “restricted use” within the government. “Compiled History on wars or military operations (within 5 years) will be for internal consumption first. Later the committee may decide to publicly release whole or parts of it, considering the sensitivity of the subject,” said an official.

In the last 74 years, the only war history declassified by the Centre relates to the Indian Army’s 1947-48 operations. Official histories of three subsequent wars in 1962, 1965 and 1971; Kargil conflict of 1999 and military operations of the 1980s like Op Bluestar on Punjab militancy and raiding of the Golden Temple; and Op Pawan – the first IPKF operation – in Sri Lanka still remained a secret.

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The new policy is unlikely to lead to the disclosure of the Henderson Brooks report on the 1962 Sino-Indian war, which remains India’s top-secret military document, nearly 60 years after the war that India lost.

In 2014, a redacted version of the first part of the report was released in the public domain by its author, but the entire report remains locked in the Defence Secretary’s Office in the South Block.

The BJP government did a classic flip-flop on the Henderson Brooks report. When in opposition senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley demanded its disclosure in “larger public interest”, but opposed such a move on “national security reasons” in July 2014 after becoming the Defence Minister.

The MoD panel will consist of representatives of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Foreign Ministry, Home Ministry, other government agencies and prominent military historians if required.

The ministry’s History Division will be responsible for coordination with various departments while compiling, seeking approval and publishing such histories.

The three Services, Integrated Defence Staff, Assam Rifles and Indian Coast Guard have been asked to transfer the records, including war diaries, letters of proceedings and operational record books to the History Division for proper upkeep, archival and writing the histories.

The Committee has to be formed within two years of completion of a war or a military operation. The collection of records and compilation should be completed in three years following which it will be disseminated to all concerned.

According to the policy, the records should "ordinarily be declassified" in 25 years. Records older than 25 years should be appraised by archival experts and transferred to the National Archives once the historical documents have been compiled.